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Girl From the North Country | Regional News

Girl From the North Country

Written by: Conor McPherson

Music and lyrics by Bob Dylan

Directed by: Conor McPherson

The Opera House, 23rd Jul 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Girl From the North Country weaves more than 20 Bob Dylan songs into the lives of 13 wayward souls living through the Great Depression in Minnesota, 1934. Nick Laine (Peter Kowitz) and his wife Elizabeth (Lisa McCune), who suffers from dementia, their alcoholic son Gene (James Smith), and their adopted, pregnant daughter Marianne (Chemon Theys) live in an old guesthouse. Characters from all walks of life wander through: the formerly wealthy Mr and Mrs Burke (Greg Stone and Helen Dallimore) and their son Elias (Blake Erickson), who has a cognitive disability; the widow Mrs Neilsen (Christina O’Neill); the corrupt Reverend Marlowe (Grant Piro); and a young boxer by the name of Joe Scott (Elijah Williams). Narrating the crossroads and intersections of their lives is the Laine family physician, Dr Walker (Terence Crawford).

With so many characters to factor in, some storylines aren’t revisited and don’t resolve – like an instance of blackmail against Mr Burke and the ill-fated love of childhood sweethearts Jean and Katherine Draper (Elizabeth Hay). Nevertheless, I’m invested in everyone onstage. Some characters I hate, like the predatory Mr Perry (the oft-hilarious Peter Carroll), while some I love – especially Elizabeth thanks to McCune’s brilliant comedic timing and vocally unbelievable performance of Like a Rolling Stone.

Vocally unbelievable suitably sums up the entire cast and ensemble. Theys’ Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?), Williams’ Slow Train, and O’Neill’s Pressing On leave me shaking my head in disbelief, while Erickson’s Duquesne Whistle is both shocking and phenomenal.

The production strikes an interesting balance between the over-the-top stage theatrics that come with a show of this scale, juxtaposed against a neutral, grubby palette and of course, the pensive poetry in motion of the great Bob Dylan. This results in moments of softness and stillness that I often crave but rarely get from a big Broadway musical.

Girl From the North Country paints a deeply affecting portrait of loss, hardship, and resolution – humanity’s innate capacity to persist, survive, against bleak odds. I’ll remember it for years and years to come.

The July Project | Regional News

The July Project

Presented by: WITCH Music Theatre

Directed by: Greta Casey-Solly with musical direction by Hayden Taylor

Te Auaha, 16th Jul 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The July Project is a theatrical concert performed by a cast of 14, many of whom play instruments, and an excellent band of four – conductor Hayden Taylor (keys), Bec Watson (percussion), Steve ‘Shack’ Morrison (guitar), and Logan Hunt (violin). While some songs are softer and sweeter than other rowdier ones, they’re all big, with a large portion of the setlist comprising musicals like Waitress, Into the Woods, and Songs for a New World.

The two pieces from Groundhog Day: The Musical are among my favourites for their comedy. Aimée Sullivan gives a masterful performance of One Day, while Stuck, featuring a large ensemble centred on Jackson Burling, has the audience laughing out loud – and loudly at that. Third up on the bill, Stuck is where The July Project starts to really shine.  

The setlist order means sometimes the energy is brought up by a raucous number like Hundred Days performed by Aine Gallagher and William Duignan, the memory of which still brings a grin to my face as it circles around my head, only for a power ballad to swoop in (Jade Merematira’s unbelievable My Future) just when the audience is getting ready to boogie in their seats. That same juxtaposition plays out earlier in the electric Over and Done With, followed by Cailin Penrose and Ben Emerson’s Simple and True, which envelops me in whole-body chills. ‘Scuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor. On that note, a special mention to the te reo rendition of Don’t Dream It’s Over by Merematira, Burling, and Mia Alonso-Green for the shivers it shoots up my spine.

There’s a 70s aesthetic I don’t quite understand (although it makes for a colourful picture), nor am I clear on the theme or what ties the songs together. But ultimately, this is all small fish for a show that makes us feel part of something special, where a radiant cast fizzes with genuine camaraderie and more talent than you could slap a banjo at. Thanks to WITCH Music Theatre for an utterly joyful experience.

Wonderkind | Regional News


Created by: Timothy Fraser, Emma Rattenbury, Ana Lorite, and Kerryn Palmer

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer

Circa Theatre, 9th Jul 2022

Reviewed by: Tania Du Toit

A magical way to kickstart the school holidays is to go see Wonderkind! Tim (Timothy Fraser) and Em (Emma Rattenbury) take you on a magical journey exploring the deep oceans, the hot savannah plains, and even the abyss of space – all while remaining in one room. Their friendship and imaginations inspire their young audience to join them on their adventure, which excites the children and parents alike.

The play emphasises visual and sound effects that can be understood by various age groups. The sound effects and music by composer and sound designer Craig Senglelow are on cue with the lighting (AV and lighting design by Sean Coyle), enhancing the different scenes. The well-executed combination of the lights and music transports you to where the characters are, taking you to the imaginary world that Tim and Em envision. The props really surprise you at how simple, everyday objects can be anything you want them to be.

Puppet designer and performer Ana Lorite is brilliant. The puppets are so well designed and portrayed that you barely notice her in the background. They really enhance the imaginary worlds and have the children laughing at their silliness. The shadow puppets give a different visual effect to the physical puppets, adding mystery and flow to the many environments that are explored.

Along with the other children, my three-year-old son was excited and captivated throughout the whole show, giggling away and commenting on all the wonderful discoveries in the play. He loved the puppets and was in awe of the light show that changed with the different scenes. The performers kept him and others engaged and involved with interaction. I asked him what his favourite part of Wonderkind was and he commented that he loved the animals, the planets, the music, and the dancing – so our overall experience is that it is definitely worth a watch.

Come Together – Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours | Regional News

Come Together – Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours

The Opera House, 7th Jul 2022

Reviewed by: Graeme King 

When Julia Deans wandered on stage and announced that she had the “first-gig jitters”, the almost full Opera House audience erupted with laughter, and the tone was set for a night of fun and partying Wellington-style!

Rumours is one of the best-selling albums of all time, but this concert was of two halves. The first combined the early blues-driven Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac, as well as the biggest singles from their other albums. 

Brett Adams’ eerily bird-like slide guitar was a clever intro to the soothingly beautiful instrumental Albatross also featuring the second guitarist and MD Jol Mulholland. Black Magic Woman featured the charismatic and talented Laughton Kora on vocals and extra guitar.

Then it was the women’s turn: first up it was Mel Parsons channelling Christine McVie with Little Lies, then Dianne Swann with Landslide and Deans following with Gypsy – each dressed in Stevie Nicks’ impeccably iconic fashion style. Initially there was the odd wrong note, but these artists owned them, and with the interplay were having so much fun between themselves that it was infectious! 

The format of switching eras was a masterstroke – it meant that we got Peter Green’s Man of the World (Adams), the bluesy Stop Messin’ Round (Kora), and Need Your Love So Bad (Mulholland) interspersed with Seven Wonders (Deans), Rhiannon (Swann), Say You Love Me (Parsons), and Sara (Deans). Big Love, featuring Kora’s dynamic vocal range and Adams’ and Mulholland’s breathtaking acoustic guitars was a highlight, rousing the biggest applause of the first half. 

For the second half it was yet another costume change for the ladies, with Deans quipping that, with this being the first of three concerts in a row, the audience were “testing the outfit changes”, and that “the men just change their guitars”!

Then it was the whole album of Rumours in order, from Second Hand News through to Gold Dust Woman. Never Going Back Again had Kora joking that he “wished he could play it”, to which Mulholland wittily replied, “I got you bro!”

It was a surprise when Matthias Jordan abandoned his keyboard duties to join the performers centre stage, saying that “they’ve let me off my leash” to take lead vocals for Go Your Own Way – but not before pointing out his family members in the audience! 

Deans was next with an achingly beautiful and spellbinding version of Songbird, including an outstanding piano intro by Jordan.

The Chain featured the superlative bass of Mike Hall and the searingly gorgeous harmonies of all three women, and it was breathtaking – they were now relaxed, in total control, and well engaged with the audience.

First up for the two encores, Oh Well featured the blistering guitar and vocals of Adams, which led straight into the last song Tusk. This showcased the finesse and very solid drumming of Alistair Deverick, and by this time most of the audience was either up dancing at their seats, in the aisles, or at the front of the stage. 

Liberty Stage have to be congratulated for bringing another stellar concert in the Come Together series, featuring some of New Zealand’s top singers and musicians performing much-loved classic albums to a very appreciative audience.


The Stasi Poetry Circle | Regional News

The Stasi Poetry Circle

Written by: Philip Oltermann

Faber & Faber

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

No, the title of this book is not a joke! But can you think of a greater incongruity than that between members of the Stasi – East Germany’s secret police of the 1980s – and an interest in lyric poetry? Or does that question expose my ignorance of the cultural climate of the times and the German fanatical attachment to all such things?

To say that this book was a revelation – albeit an uncomfortable one – is an understatement. Author Philip Oltermann spent five years rifling through Stasi files, digging up lost volumes of poetry, and tracking down surviving members of this Red poet’s society to uncover the little-known story of the famously ruthless intelligence agency’s obsession with literature.

Why had the Stasi set up such a thing as “the working circle of writing Chekists”? Oltermann’s interviewees provide a range of answers, all of which make for fascinating reading. The group’s leader, “the thin man with the thick glasses”, was Uwe Berger, a man of reputedly “monkish asceticism” who had somehow avoided becoming a political tool, and instead used his role as poetry tutor to carry out a “personal mission as a living link to Germany’s darkest hour”.

One of the poems that made it into the Red booklet was called Come. It consisted of an appeal for honesty and comradeship, yet contained the lines “Come…but not just to complain / because then / You had better not come at all”.

Germany’s descent into a paranoid culture war is well charted. Were writers indeed embedding subversive ideas in their work? Annegret Gollin, a young woman who could be described as non-conformist, was ultimately arrested, and her poems seized. During interrogation, she was asked to explain and interpret her own poems!

Oltermann has employed literary terms as chapter headings. Some, such as sonnet, metaphor, and persona would be familiar to readers. Less familiar though would be consonance, bathos, and dissonance. Each title introduces content bearing on the author’s remarkable account.

Weaponising poetry – who would have thought it? Only the Stasi surely – or am I being naïve?

Brave the Storm: Skydragon 4 | Regional News

Brave the Storm: Skydragon 4

Written by: Anh Do

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

It probably would have been good to read the first three of Anh Do’s Skydragon series instead of diving headfirst into book four. Nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised despite having to play catchup on the premise.

First we meet Amber, so used to her innate ability to turn into a skydragon that after a concussion she is left worried her powers, which once saw her connect with insects and turn into a skydragon at the first sign of imminent danger, may never return.

Anh Do has a great ability to create adventures that are easy to read and not too daunting for the child listening or the parent reading, with chapters that are not too long yet entertaining nevertheless. With a healthy dose of cartoon-like images by illustrator James Hart, characters are brought to life in the ultimate adventure.

My son was not initially keen to read Brave the Storm: Skydragon 4. It was in his mind, presumably decided by first glance, a “girl’s book”. When I heard this I tried to discern whether it was the colourful cover, the female heroine on said cover, or something that seemed to scream there are girls lurking on the inside. It was, he admitted, the cover and its female protagonist Amber. Not to worry, we moved past this ideation pretty quickly with a “really, there’s no such thing as a girl’s or boy’s book”. Rather, in this book, there’s a promise of adventure, a quest to regain lost powers, and to boot, a strong female lead on a journey of self-discovery. Will she escape the clutches of nemesis Agent Ferris, despite not having her usual powers?

In Brave the Storm, adventure takes Amber and neighbour Irene deep into the jungle of Sennam where brief encounters as tourists quickly dissipate after they become embroiled in jungle warfare in a death-defying bid to help an ancient tribe. Spoiler, the end will certainly have you excited for book five.

The Social Lives of Animals | Regional News

The Social Lives of Animals

Written by: Ashley Ward

Profile Books Ltd

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

“Sociability”, states author Ashley Ward, is “the ability to live and work alongside one another in groups, to co-operate”. Sociability forms the bedrock of our human existence and success, and in this remarkable tome he sets out to demonstrate such a thesis.

Ward wastes little time lamenting the march of technology and its destructive effect upon our lives. Instead, we get fascinating examples of communication and co-operation from the technology-free world of insects and animals.

Most of us would probably think at once of bees and cite their industrious nectar collecting and their egg-laying queen. You think you know all about bees? Buzz off! The chapter titled Honey, I fed the kids offers a hive of information: a bee in its lifetime produces only a fraction of a teaspoon of honey, the queen, laying thousands of eggs a day, works herself to death for the good of her colony, and bees employ a fearless kamikaze to defend their nests.

Ants and termites belong to the same category of super organisms and are equally fascinating – and cooperative.

Moving to a watery element, Ward’s expedition to the Azores to study the social behaviour of whales and dolphins nets some extraordinary observations. From his vantage point, safe in a vessel, he finds himself in the middle of a mammalian family frolic, smaller whales circling a huge matriarch. A small one would swim into the matriarch’s oar-like lower jaw and rest there, apparently receiving a very gentle nibble from Mum, before being released. Sociable? Not everyone’s idea of a whale of a time!

“Primates are the new kids on the animal block, having appeared around sixty five million years ago”, Ward reminds us. As you might expect, his chapter on our nearest relatives (there’s a huge overlap in our DNA) contains hilarious tales of monkey business in all its guises. One of my favourites was reading that vervet monkeys enjoy alcohol and get drunk! Who are we humans to point fingers? It’s all in the interests of sociability of course!

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief | Regional News

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief

Written by: A.F. Steadman

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Cade Manava (10)

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is a book about a boy named Skandar who loves to watch unicorns race and goes on a quest to try and find the right unicorn to match his spirit. He gets swept up in a lie when he tells his sister Kenna that he is training to be a unicorn rider, something only the best of the best get to do. Kenna then tells his whole school so he has no choice but to set out to make his little white lie a reality. On his travels he sees different unicorns. His favourite is New-Age Frost, whose rider Aspen McGrath had qualified for the Chaos Cup, the ultimate race every unicorn and rider dreams to participate in. The main characters are Skandar, his sister Kenna, and his dad. 

My favourite part of the book was the beginning because it was interesting to read about Skandar’s background and where he’s from. I also liked the end because there was much more action when the book started to wrap up. Even though at first I wasn’t that keen on reading about unicorns… mostly because it makes me think of pink and rainbows (which isn’t my usual thing), there was so much action and excitement that it changed my view on how I feel about all things unicorn.

There wasn’t much that I didn’t like apart from a few boring bits at the start. The only thing that didn’t interest me as much was that the book was about unicorns… which isn’t something that would usually catch my interest, but otherwise there wasn’t really anything that I didn’t enjoy.

Overall I enjoyed Skandar and the Unicorn Thief. It’s great to read before bed. For boys I think the age should be nine to 14 and for girls I reckon from eight to 15 would be a good age range, only because the majority of girls seem to be more interested in unicorns. Out of five stars I give it a 4.5.

Elvis | Regional News



159 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

After seeing the dramatic lives of Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and Aretha Franklin brought to life on the big screen, it’s only fitting that the king of rock ‘n’ roll has been given his turn to shine again in Elvis. The result is a bold and dramatic musical epic that gets some things very right and others a bit wrong.

From his rise to fame to his unprecedented superstardom, Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) maintains a complicated relationship with his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), for over two decades. Through love, loss, fame, fortune, and of course, music, the singer and some of his peers begin to question if he is truly in charge of his own destiny.

Butler’s performance steals the show. The 30-year-old stated that he felt a responsibility to Elvis and his family to live up to the icon through his portrayal. From speaking in his notable deep voice and performing his famous dance moves onstage to even singing like him, Butler nailed every single element. Hanks supported the young actor well in a rare role as the antagonist, while the casting and performances across the board were excellent.

Elvis has a unique style thanks to director Baz Luhrmann. It is told from the Colonel’s perspective even though he is clearly the villain, an element I enjoyed. However, at times it is an overload on the senses due to quick edits, comic book-style visuals, and odd mixtures of Elvis classics with modern-day pop hits. It is also a shame that not a single Elvis song is sung in full.

Even at almost three hours long, parts of Elvis’ iconic life are rushed through, but the film also never loses your attention. The ending is both sombre and powerful thanks to how Luhrmann and his writers chose to abruptly wrap up the story. It is a tragedy that the world lost Elvis at just 42, and this tragedy and the reasons are dramatically emphasised.

Elvis won’t really tell you anything new about the star, but overall, it is a captivating, exciting, and haunting feature that showcases much of Elvis’ trailblazing journey.